Monday, May 11, 2015

Laser satellites on the way

The recent destruction of the U.S. Air Force's 20-year-old Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 13 and the resulting cloud of space debris adding to an already dangerous amount of clutter traveling at high speeds in orbit of the planet has brought to light a plan by Japanese researchers to fit a laser to the ISS.

The Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO) telescope, originally designed to detect cosmic rays, could be put to use for a more 'useful' project. The EUSO which is scheduled to be installed on Japan's module on the ISS in 2017, could help the orbiting complex detect dangerous debris. Researchers say that a powerful laser under development could then help shoot down this space garbage.

Toshikazu Ebisuzaki, an astrophysicist and chief scientist at the RIKEN (Rikagaku Kenkyūsho) Computational Astrophysics Laboratory in Wako, Japan, and his team reasoned that the EUSO's wide range of view and powerful optics could also help it detect high-speed debris near the ISS. Then a Coherent Amplification Network (CAN) laser could then blast the debris. The CAN laser consists of many small lasers working together to generate a single powerful beam and is currently under development to drive particles at high speeds in atom smashers. The laser would vaporize a thin film of matter off the surface of debris and the resulting high-speed plasma would act like a rocket plume, nudging the junk downward to eventually burn up in Earth's atmosphere.

A full-scale version of the system would be armed with a 100 kilowatt ultraviolet CAN laser that can fire 10,000 pulses per second, each lasting one-tenth of one-billionth of a second. The researchers say this system could blast debris from a range of about 60 miles (100 kilometers), and the laser would need about 17 lbs. (8 kilograms) of lithium-ion batteries.

A proof-of-concept version of the system is first intended to be deployed, consisting of a miniature version of EUSO and a prototype 10-watt ultraviolet CAN laser firing 100 pulses per second. A RIKEN spokesman noted that the mini-EUSO telescope has been accepted as a project on the ISS and could perhaps go up in 2017 or 2018, but the laser system is still a concept that has not been built.

Simulation of Earth's orbiting space junk - NASA
If the concept and full versions are successful, the researchers suggest developing a satellite devoted solely to blasting space debris. They suggest the satellite should assume an orbit that takes it over both of Earth's poles, allowing it to shoot down debris all over the planet, and be armed with a 500 kilowatt ultraviolet CAN laser that can fire 50,000 pulses per second. They estimate it could blast one piece of debris every five minutes, or 100,000 pieces of space junk each year.

"The biggest obstacle is funding," Ebisuzaki said. "There are some technical challenges, of course, but the main issue is getting funding for development and launch."

It was noted that Major General "Jäger" Brandt, SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Security and Surveillance and Brigadier General "Whopper" Creedon, SPEARHEAD Assistant Commander for Intelligence and Information both visited RIKEN recently, fueling online conspiracy rumours that SPEARHEAD had deliberately destroyed DMSP-13 in an effort to fast-track extra funding for the Japanese project. Neither RIKEN or SPEARHEAD have answered questions on the issue.


No comments: